Google Inc. plans to let people buy online versions of books, but only make them available for reading through a browser.
The new service, which would be available through Google Book Search, would make books available only after a person signs in to his personal account. People would not be able to store a copy of the book in their computer or copy pages.
The Mountain View, Calif., company currently offers snippets of copyrighted works in search results, along with links to bookstores and online retailers where they can be purchased. Google, however, does provide online access to library books and documents in the public domain.
Google is offering the new sales option to publishers who are members of the Google Books Partner Program.
The plan is similar to a service launched by rival Amazon.com Inc. late last year. The retailer said it would give customers the option of buying online access to any page or section of a book, as well as the entire book. In addition, Amazon.com said it would give customers buying a physical book the option of also having that book available online for reading. The program is called Amazon Upgrade.
Google has had a rocky relationship with book publishers and authors. The Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild sued Google last year, challenging its initiative to scan library books so they can be included in search results. The whole work would only be available for books and documents in the public domain.
Nevertheless, the plaintiffs argue that Google needs to have permission to copy protected works. Both cases are pending.
Under the library project, Google plans to digitize books from the collections of Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, Oxford University and the New York Public Library. The latter two are making available only books in the public domain.